Aah! And the year 2016 draws to an end as I write this last post for the year.
The seventh posture in the Suryanamaskar is the cobra pose or the bhujangasana.
• Posture: From the eight-point salutation pose, extend the feet by pointing toes and resting the dorsum (top of foot) of the feet on the floor. Next lower the thighs onto the floor by bringing the hips to neutral from flexed position. The legs are resting on the floor from shin to thigh as you begin lifting the torso while extending the lumbar spine as you push the chest out. The spine should simultaneously stay elongated as you achieve a uniform curve, moving up towards mid and upper back. The palms facing down, resting on the floor are just behind the shoulders in the beginning and end up in front of shoulders as end posture is reached. The elbows may be in any degree of flexion to complete trunk extension, based on available range of spinal extension and trunk lift from the floor. Finally, you can push the palms into the mat as you open up the chest by rolling shoulder blades down and in.
• Muscles: The plantarflexors in your legs (gastric-soleus and their synergists) facilitate pointing the toes or plantarflexion of the feet. An eccentric lengthening of the hip flexors with hip extensor contraction (gluteus maximus, biceps femoris and semitendinosus) ensures smooth lowering to the floor. It is important to pull in the navel to initiate the spinal movement with the transverse abdominals, obliques, and multifidi which stabilize the spine and then engage the erector spinae, latissimus dorsi and quadratus lumborum for lumbar and thoracic extension(stability before movement protects the spine). Sometimes if spine is stiff/weak it is not possible to arch the low back and in that case, one may use the arms to push-up and extend trunk. The rhomboids and middle trapezius bring the shoulder blades towards midline and maintain stability. The anterior chain muscles like the iliopsoas, rectus abdominus, pectorals and anterior deltoids are stretched with opening of the shoulders. Triceps facilitate weight transfer from upper arms via the extended wrists and flat palms on the floor).
• Breathing: This is a classic backward bending posture and hence is accompanied with a deep breath in and hold at end of pose. This posture opens up the upper lobes of the lungs and one can notice the air rushing in to open the air sacs in the upper chest area. Inhale deep by availing the accessory muscles of breathing (in the neck), as they further elevate the upper ribs.
“Om Hranyagarbhaya Namaha"
I bow to thee, one who contains everything.
Happy Holidays! Let the festivities begin.
The sixth posture in Surya Namaskar is the eight-point salute or the ashtanga namaskar.
• Posture: From the four limb stick pose, slowly lower the knees to the floor. Then keeping the pelvis up and the hip in some flexion, lower the mid-point of upper chest (the top of sternum or manubrium sterni) to the floor, with the arms close to the torso. Next rest the chin on the floor while fixing gaze straight ahead. In this position, you are making an eight point contact with the floor/ground- the ball of feet(2), the knees(2), the two hands on floor(2), the top of chest(1) and the chin (1).
• Muscles: The ankle dorsiflexors are already active with the peroneii for ankle stability as it bears weight. As you lower the knees from chaturanga dandasana, the hip and knee flexors (psoas, and rectus femoris at the hip, hamstrings and gastrocnemius at the knee) facilitate the movement, while the spine is kept in neutral by the spinal stabilizers ( transverse abdominus and multifidi). An important contribution comes from the popliteus which unlocks the knee to initiate flexion. Also, to keep the trunk in neutral rotation the obliques work symmetrically. Once the knees are resting on the floor in weight bearing position, major leg muscle groups co-contract in agonist-antagonist synergistic pattern to firm up the thigh like a pillar. The shoulder blades are drawn to the midline and stabilized by rhomboids, middle trapezius and serratus anterior as it pulls the scapula towards the ribs. The rotator cuff is active for shoulder joint stability, biceps/triceps synergize as the pronators and wrist extensors contract to allow the palm to contact the floor for weight bearing.
• Breathing: As you transition from the four-limb stick pose to eight point salutation, breathe out gently and slowly. At end of posture, hold the breath out.
The fifth posture in Surya namaskar is the chaturanga dandasana or the four limb stick pose.
• From the equestrian pose, bring the right foot back next to the left foot, keeping the arms extended at elbow and assume the plank position. The distance between the feet should be about 6-12 inches and no more than hip width apart. The entire body is like a straight stick, with four limbs in contact with the floor, hence the name four limb stick pose. The feet are dorsiflexed and resting on ball of feet, the knee and hip joints are neutral, the spine is neutral with neck elongated and shoulders directly over the wrist joints, with wrists in extension and weight bearing through palmar surface of hands. The entire trunk muscles work in co-contraction and there is complete synchrony of synergists, agonists and antagonists to maintain stability. From here maintaining stable trunk, slowly lower body as unit by keeping elbows close to trunk and bending the elbows, while shoulder joints are extended in close chain movement. As the body weight lowers, and the arms contribute to weight bearing, weight shifts to upper quadrant. The heels draw slightly forward to accommodate this weight shift and the ankle joints are at near 90° angle. This is the final chaturanga dandasana posture.
It is important to keep spine in neutral and not hyperextend at the lumbar spine (inadequate spinal stabilization), which causes compensatory flexion of the thoracic spine with shoulder protraction or alternatively, the lumbar spine may be forced to hyperextend by hip flexion (tight muscles) with anterior pelvic rotation. Sometimes tight hip flexors with weak gluteus maximus may cause hip to flex and the ischial tuberosity to be higher than it should resulting in inverted “V” posture instead of stick pose. So be vary of any variation that may occur.
• Muscles: The toe extensors and foot dorsiflexors are engaged, as are the quadriceps and gluteus maximus. To maintain stability of legs in the transverse plane, the abductors and adductors co-contract. Plenty of muscles are activated in the trunk to maintain stability as the rectus abdominus co-activates with the gluteus maximus to prevent anterior pelvic rotation and hence hyperextension of lumbar spine. The transverse abdominus, multifidi, and erector spinae are all active and the quadratus lumborum with the obliques balances the pelvis(maintains symmetry) and prevents unilateral pelvic rotation (or dipping of the pelvis on one side). The rhomboids and middle trapezius keep the scapula or shoulder blades close to the midline/ spine and provide the ideal channel for weight transference. The serratus anterior fires making load transfer from stable shoulder blades to the arms. The rotator cuff(set of muscles- supraspinatus and infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor) stabilizes the shoulder girdle and keeps the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) snug in the glenoid socket of the scapula (shoulder joint). Triceps contract as do the forearm pronators and wrist extensors with wrist in 90° of extension as the hands make contact with the ground.
That is a long list of muscles activating to maintain a stable position. A wonderful workout and hence important to make sure you are comfortable doing it. In yoga Patanjali says “sthiram sukham asanam,” which means the “stable comfortable posture,” and this posture can amply demonstrate this if one tunes into (or increases awareness of the comfort level of the body during its performance.
It is important to experience comfort during execution of this posture. Stop at once if you notice discomfort or unease in your back, shoulders or wrists or any other body part. It may indicate the need to work on stability of isolated parts or simplifying posture by decreasing intensity through bringing knees to floor and building up missing or weak components.
• During transition from the ashwa sanchalanasana to the chaturanga dandasana, breathe out. When you reach the final posture and hold the posture, breathe in and hold breath in. Alternatively if you cannot hold for that long, inhale and exhale as long as you can, finishing up with inhalation. Breathe in slow and prolong breaths as you can. In yoga, much benefit takes place through prolonged holding of postures and breath for stability and quicker pace has more to do with skill or ease of movement.
"Om Khagaya Namaha"
I bow to thee, one who moves in the sky
The fourth and ninth asana in Surya Namaskar is the equestrian pose or the ashwa sanchalanasana.
• Position: From the hasta padasana, or forward bend, keep the right foot between the hands on the floor and extend the left leg back as you slowly lower yourself into a deep lunge. The left knee should come in contact with the ground, and the foot should be relaxed and plantarflexed (push toes out as far away from the shin as you can) so that the dorsum (top of foot) is touching the ground. Further stretch in posture can be achieved by arching the trunk or spine backwards and looking upwards with cervical extension. This increases the stretch in the left groin and anterior trunk while allowing deep hip flexion on right side. The shoulders should be relaxed or depressed with chest pushed out for pectoral stretch. Assuming this posture from the previous one involves large body movement and hence takes practice for smooth and graceful execution.
• Muscles: As you lower to the floor by bending(flexing) the right leg at hip and knee joints, the psoas, pectineus, and hip flexor synergists as well as adductors contract to keep the bending leg knee in line with the toes. The hamstrings contract at the right knee and dorsiflexors of the foot provide continued forward flexion of the knee and ankle joints. As always, the trunk stabilizers (transverse abdominus and multifidi) keep the spine neutral during the move. The extensor muscles of the right hip- the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, long head of biceps femoris, and the semimembranosus and semitendinosus- work in synchrony. The quadriceps extend the left knee and the plantar flexors allow the dorsum of foot to come in contact with the ground. If the pose is further deepened through trunk extension, the erector spinae contracts, and the latissimus and lower trapezius helps depress the shoulder blades with the palms open and hands firmly on floor.
• Breathing: During the transition of posture from hasta padasana to ashwa sanchalanasana, breathe in deep and long, even when you arch your back. This posture contains breathing in and out. In the final posture, chest is pushed out, arching the back, and so the anterior lobes of the lungs fill up with air in the alveoli for gaseous exchange. Breathe out as you hold the pose or transition to next posture.
“Om Bhanave Namaha”
I bow to thee, one who diffuses light.
"Om Adityaya Namaha"
I bow to thee, who is God of gods.
Happy December! Hope you have had a good week.
The third (and the tenth) posture in 12 pose Suryanamaskar is the forward bend or the hasta padasana (hand to foot).
• From the hasta uttanasana /backward bend or the 2nd (and 11th) posture, keep arms stretched overhead and slowly reverse the spine from extension to a neutral spine, rolling the pelvis to neutral. The feet still rooted on the floor, the legs as a unit (ankle to hip joint), move back at ankle joints, shifting weight posteriorly making adjustment for the torso to bend forward. The shoulders may be taken through an entire rotation to incorporate scapular and gleno-humeral mobility and to add smoothness and grace to the movement, while prolonging the breath out. The pelvis progresses into anterior rotation with hip flexion, while maintaining knees in neutral or minimal flexion, as the hands reach for the big toe of feet. It is important to keep the shoulders neutral and not attempt to pull oneself down through arms (shoulder protraction) or spine (by flexion) in order to reach for the floor. The movement comes from hip hinge with good hamstrings flexibility and uniform spinal curve. If the hands do not touch toes, it is alright to start by bringing hands to knees and sliding them down shin of lower legs with the knees flexed about 10°-15°.
• Muscles: Initially the transverse abdominus and multifidi stabilize the spine. The rectus abdominus and gluteus maximus contract, to bring the spine and the pelvis respectively, to neutral. The gastroc-soleus contracts with hip flexors(iliopsoas and pectineus) to move body segments and maintain center of gravity over the base of support. The quadriceps contracts to keep knee in extension and bring about reciprocal inhibition of the hamstrings allowing them to stretch maximally. In the alternative position if the knees are flexed to bring hands to toes, hamstrings are active with quadriceps relaxed initially. However, it is important to slowly attempt to straighten knees by activating quadriceps.
• Breathe out slowly and steadily during the forward bend, reaching to complete exhalation at end of movement. The diaphragm flattens as it contracts and curves upwards into the thoracic cavity as it relaxes. During the breath out, the pelvic floor muscles contract assuming an upward convexity and pushing abdominal organs towards diaphragm to push air out as lungs recoil. Here the chest is compressed anteriorly, so it expands posteriorly and laterally and gaseous exchange takes place primarily in the posterior, lateral, and apical basal lobes of the lungs.
"Om Suryaya namah" (I bow to thee, one who induces activity)
Ami Gandhi is a licensed physical therapist in the state of California. She is the owner of StableMovement Physical Therapy, a small boutique practice in San Jose that offers patient centered, one-on-one, hands-on physical therapy.